Saturday 10 December 2022

Sunday, December 11, 2022 - Third Sunday in Advent - Expectation fulfilled?

To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 35:1-6,10; Jas 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11

The text from Isaiah is a prophetic announcement of salvation and portrays eschatological hope even in the midst of a seemingly dire situation. The central theme of the proclamation is the renewal of creation and human salvation. These are kept together as the common goal of God’s promises. Thus God’s power will be seen not only in the fact that the desert will bring forth flowers and will rejoice and sing like humans would do, but also in the fact that the exiles who are afraid, tired and have lost hope are called to a renewed hope and courage because the Lord is indeed coming to save. All kinds of brokenness will be turned to wholeness. The blind, the deaf, the lame and the dumb will receive healing and become whole again. The return to Zion will be with joy. Sorrow will be a thing of the past.

In the last chapter of his letter and in the verses which form the text of today, James continues the theme of Isaiah in offering hope and advocating patience. In order to make his point he uses an agricultural analogy. As the farmer waits patiently, so must Christians. However, this waiting must be an active waiting which will show itself in acceptance of each other which would result in building community rather than complaints against each other which would result in breaks in community and unity. The Parousia (literally “presence” but also “the second coming of the Lord”) must be the motivating factor in this striving for unity.

The question of John the Baptist through his disciples which begins the Gospel text for today “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” seems to reflect a problem that John may have faced. His view of the Messiah was of one who would come with the winnowing fork to clear his threshing floor and separate the wheat from the chaff (Mt 3,12), but Jesus seemed to be behaving quite contrary to these predictions. In his reply to the disciples of John the Matthean Jesus quotes Isa 35:5-6 and 61:1, of which the former is clearly about signs which will accompany the coming of God himself and the latter seems to clinch the identity of Jesus as the Messiah. The prophetic vision which Isaiah expounded of a transformed society is realized in the ministry of Jesus. The questions that Jesus asks the people about John seem to be in order to make clear that John was not merely a prophet but more than a prophet. He is the one who goes before the Messiah to prepare his way as promised in Malachi. However, what is also implied is that since John went before Jesus, he (Jesus) is the Messiah.

When we look around us and notice the overwhelming poverty, injustice and corruption. When we see how nature is being destroyed and the ecological balance wantonly disturbed. When we read about how the marginalized are becoming even more so with each passing day. When we experience the brokenness that seems to be so permanent, we might be tempted like John to ask if the Messiah has indeed come and if he has then why he has not destroyed the destroyers. A further reflection reveals, however, that it is not as simple and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his book The Gulag Archipelago puts it very succinctly, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” This means in other words that if good was black in colour and evil was white, every one of us would be grey. This has two implications. On the one hand it means that each one of us is broken and so a combination of good and evil and on the other hand that each one of us is responsible for the brokenness that we experience around us. Sin is within.

Once we realize this then we will be able to first understand and then adopt the attitude of Jesus who was adamant against sin but so tolerant towards sinners. This is the approach that he takes when he reaches out to make whole the blind, the lame, lepers and the deaf. This approach of making whole connects us to the prophetic vision expressed by Isaiah in the first reading of today, but in the case of Jesus it was not so much a future event as a present happening. He brought the kingdom not with a pitchfork and fire but with compassion and healing and through his cross. This connects also with the exhortation of James who tells his readers to strive for that unity and wholeness within the community through patience and understanding rather than through strife.

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